Spiritual leaders gather in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Spiritual leaders gather in Aspen

Carolyn Sackariason The Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado

Jordan Curet The Aspen Times

ASPEN About 150 spiritual leaders from around the world have descended upon Aspen, working together over four days to form a collective voice of peace in an effort to bring healing to the nation, which is facing unprecedented challenges. Today marks the final day of the Global Peace Initiative of Womens Gathering Spiritual Voices of America, which is being held at the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Institute.The gathering was deliberately scheduled two days after the presidential election. Organizers said that during the past several years, the nation has become politically and religiously polarized. The initiative is an effort to end the divisions by tapping the values shared by all religious traditions and focusing on the vision of unity.Dr. Tom Coburn, president of Naropa University in Boulder, said he has found the summit to be extremely significant in that it has recognized peoples commonalties and celebrated their differences.I think last weeks election is symbolic of a change in American culture but also in its consciousness, he said. What this conference is doing is to bring together hundreds of people who are manifesting that in their work around the world.The goal is to find a new vehicle for religious leaders so their collective voices can provide guidance in times of crisis and be an inspiration for a new type of activism, based on love and compassion, rather than fear and anger.Included among the group are Father Thomas Keating, senior monastic, St. Benedicts Monastery in Old Snowmass; Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement; Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, chairman of the American Buddhist Association; Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Swami Atmarupananda, senior monastic of the Ramakrishna Mission; Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, founder and president of Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation, and Brother Achalananda, senior monastic of the Self-Realization Fellowship, among many others. Its so great to have these spiritual leaders of all faiths in Aspen and at the Institute, which was founded on mind, body and spirit, said Rev. Dr. Gregg Anderson, chaplain of the Aspen Chapel.The premise of the gathering is that the spiritual landscape of America is changing. Organizers said that the religious voice of the Fundamental Christian Right has dominated the country for several years and it represents a minority of Americans.Thats why the initiative conducted an extensive search to find respected leaders from the Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, contemplative Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths who arent advocating for the superiority of one faith, themselves or their churches.Rather, the intention is to draw upon a collective wisdom to reflect on how to address the most pressing issues facing the nation the economic crisis, increasing poverty, environmental degradation and climate change, and the fear that has permeated the nation since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.We have come together across spiritual lines, because that is where the great mystical energy resides, said Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW). There is a type of activism that comes out of contemplation, anything else is social action.GPIW is a New-York based nonprofit founded by a multi-faith group of women spiritual leaders. Since its inception in 2002 at the United Nations in Geneva, GPIW has been working in many of the worlds conflict areas, including Israel, Palestine, Sudan and Iraq, to support peace.Dena Merriam, founder and convener of GPIW, said while Aspen may be a departure from prior gathering places, it is the perfect venue for such a pivotal time in the worlds history.Frankly, I thought Aspen was just a playground for the rich, she said Friday. But I found great energy and beauty here and I saw a great network. Colorado has something special about it.Participants said during the event that the call of the time transcends political realities and the world community stands at a crossroads. The next few years will be critical ones for the nation, and what takes place in the U.S. will affect other parts of the world. Spiritual activism involves making changes first in thinking and behavior, then in policy, they said.Our new president, Barack Obama, said there will be some changes and that is happening now, right here, said a participant during Fridays summit. I hope that we can all get together, live a good life and be kind to each other.The summit wraps up today, starting with meditation and yoga at the Aspen Meadows Gym. Discussions begin 9 a.m. The days activities close at 4 p.m. with an inter-spiritual ceremony.Merriam said she hopes the spiritual coalition will gain momentum in the coming months and contribute to the nations most pressing challenges, and ultimately lead to a paradigm shift in the worlds leadership.A new spiritual energy is emerging in the country, she said. Just as the political landscape is changing, so too is the spiritual landscape. We must tap this new energy to gain a forward looking vision of how to advance our national well being.csack@aspentimes.com